Editor’s Memo

Moving scene

Iden Wetherell

WE moved offices this week. Psychologists say moving is as traumatic as death and divorce. It is certainly very inconvenient, especially when the people to

whose offices you are relocating drag their heels over moving out and leave large mounds of debris as a souvenir of their stay in the building.

We are still at 1 Kwame Nkrumah Ave, but now in the first block instead of the third. Moving the desks and filing cabinets was the least of our work.

Given the indisposition of journalists to hard labour, we hired people to do that. The problems came with relaying cables for phones and computers. If you have had difficulty getting through to our numbers this week you now know why. Hopefully, normal service will be resumed next week. That includes e-mails which yesterday were still not up and running.

The move has obliged me to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts. I now have an office. Hitherto I have believed editors should be at the heart of their newsrooms, not cut off in splendid isolation removed from the hurly-burly of news-gathering. But given the geography of our new premises I have surrendered, after seven years of holding out, to the needs of the situation in which we find ourselves.

But I am not entirely cut off. Sliding doors enable me to feel part of the action while affording a measure of privacy when visitors call. Meanwhile, I have a commanding view of the Zanu PF building, for what it’s worth, and am thinking of installing a telescope to monitor the volume of “work” that goes on in that vacuous block whose site, I gather, the City of Harare still hasn’t been paid for.

I ducked out of the most demanding part of our move by spending Monday in South Africa. I was able to see Andy Meldrum and his wife Dolores comfortably ensconced in Pretoria where Andy is keeping up the very important work of reporting on Zimbabwe for the Guardian.

When he was illegally abducted and deported by immigration officers earlier this year, the government no doubt calculated it would be removing an inconvenient critic of President Mugabe’s misrule. It failed miserably. Andy now has a world-wide reputation for standing up to this brutal regime and his reports in the Guardian have an even wider audience.

It is a tribute to his influence as a reporter that Andy is subject to regular assaults by government spokesmen writing in the Herald. Their fury that he continues to expose the waste, corruption and electoral cheating of the Zanu PF regime reflects an all-too-evident frustration that their bid to silence him failed.

I was also able to see Mercedes Sayagues in Pretoria. She was similarly deported for exposing the criminal record of Zimbabwe’s leadership. She misses Zimbabwe very much but, like Andy and Dolores, looks forwarding to retur-ning when we have a democratic government. That day will come as surely as day follows night.

On Monday afternoon I took part in a workshop on editorial writing at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg. The young journalists attending were keen to learn how to transform their news reports into editorial commentaries when required to do so – and to know the difference between the two.

I was amused to see the workshop organisers had supplied copies of news reports from Zimbabwe’s government press, where editorial opinion is freely advanced as news, as examples of what to avoid. It was intriguing to see how quickly the class pointed out loaded language and paranoid claims without much prompting from their instructors!

Frankly, there is nothing wrong with loaded language in editorial commentaries. They are after all opinion pieces. But where opinion masquerades as news, as is so often the case in Zimbabwe’s “public” media, the public is ill-served.

Frequently we witness comments that are unattributed, expressions of partisan opinion chucked into a story as statements of fact, and, as in the case of a report by the US Peace Institute last week, material that has been crudely twisted to suit the political needs of ministers.

This disgraceful behaviour is indulged by a media commission that has no public mandate and in any case appears solely preoccupied with policing the independent media. It is a matter of legitimate conjecture as to whether it is actually permitted to raise issues of professionalism in the state media. There is certainly no evidence for it.

We are assured by the leaders of neighbouring states that the whole rotten edifice of Aippa will soon be torn down together with Posa. It won’t be soon enough.

The South African papers were this week full of the allegations being made against deputy president Jacob Zuma in relation to the massive arms deal signed by South Africa and a number of European suppliers a few years ago. Zuma is accused of seeking kickbacks from a French company.

For those with short memories, Zuma rushed to Harare as soon as President Mugabe’s election “victory” was announced in March last year and was filmed hugging Simon Muzenda and cabinet ministers in a gesture clearly endorsing the outcome.

Make what you will of this solidarity between Zanu PF and the ANC, I am a firm believer in the theory that politicians get what they deserve. The recently disgraced ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni, let us recall, had two years earlier told EU observers that they had no right to monitor Zimbabwe’s parliamentary poll. Only Africans were entitled to do that, he said grandly on the steps of State House. Now look what’s happened to him.

The Germans call it schadenfreude. I call it come-uppance. Essentially it means sitting back and watching meddling politicians for whom accountability is a foreign concept coping with the consequences of their overweening pretensions.

That was the message I shared this week with a new generation of South African journalism practitioners who seemed, in any case, to have no illusions about their own governing class. One pointed out to me the similarities between Zimbabwe today and South Africa in the 1970s and 80s when it comes to state manipulation of the media.

While I welcome a challenge from time to time, it is also nice occasionally to be preaching to the converted!

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